The Early Church Fathers Hardcover – 1 Jun 1994
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
For current critical translations, see the "Fathers of the Church" series and the "Ancient Christian Writers" series. (But be prepared to purchase those books one volume at a time.)
Just a caveat: this is not, and does not advertize itself as a complete compendium of the writings of the authors represented in this set. For instance, Origen, Jerome and Athanasius are given particularly brief treatments, as are most of the writers presented in volumes 25-38.
... This is a great resource, but some 120 years after initial publication, the body of manuscripts and scholarship used in translation has been improved upon. This cannot be looked upon as an intrisic weakness in this series, but rather an effect of aging which falls on all older works which rely on a body of historical writings which are under constant study.
Regarding the introduction essays, I don't have a huge problem with them. Not all of them are openly polemical. This was compiled by Protestants, so one should not be surprised to find pro-Protestant essays therein. One cannot possibly confuse these with the writings of the Fathers themselves, and can be easily skipped.
However, I did pick up a fair amount of attempted "damage control" in the footnotes, i.e. the footnote on Irenaeus' Against Heresies 3:3:2. Other examples could be cited.
In any case, I am not citing these things to "unpromote" the work, but simply discussing the points .... I am aware that there are newer translations of these writings available, but are only available piecework and for much more money.
This is indeed a great place to start, but people wanting more complete writings and/or more current scholarship might want to consider the Ancient Christian Writers series.
Schaff was guided by a number of principles in his History. He was convinced, for example, that other church histories conformed to a "dry, lifeless style" that failed to probe the "main thing in history, the ideas which rule it and reveal themselves in the process." Most church histories -he believed- failed to foster a sense organic development, leaving students unable to understand their movement's place in the overall history of the church.
Following philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, who posited that cycles of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis raise what is preserved to a higher level, Schaff maintained: "spiritual growth is likewise a process of annihilation, preservation, and exaltation." An example of this process in Christian thought and practice was -according to Schaff- the emergence of the Protestant Reformation out of the medieval Catholic Church. "The practical piety and morality of Roman Catholicism," said Schaff, "is characteristically legal, punctilious, un-free and anxious; but distinguished also for great sacrifices, the virtue of obedience, and full consecration to the Church." The Protestant Reformation brought a needed corrective through a faith that "is evangelically free, cheerful and joyous in the possession of justification by grace."
In effect Schaff presents Protestantism as the heir of catholicity at the expense of the Roman See (his description of "the Papists" is outrageous), liberating doctrine from the "constraints" of ecclesial authority. Yet he conveniently minimizes the shortcomings of Protestantism, namely its fractious nature and the replacement of Apostolic Tradition with the tradition of subjective interpretation of Scripture. Fortunately he recognized the need for union, envisioning the emergence of a synthetic "evangelical-catholic" Christianity in the future.
Schaff utilizes heavy editorializing to present the writings of the Church Fathers as representing his viewpoint; this unfairly forces the reader to accept his overbearing perspective at the expense of the Church Fathers. If you are approaching this work from a non-Protestant background, you might find it necessary to skip the introductions and the footnotes. Despite the sectarian presentation of Church history, I recommend this work, as it makes the works of the Apostolic Fathers accessible at a reasonable price.
What we needed is a set that did not try to prove that these Fathers of the Church were Protestants. They are not. We would need even less a set that would try to prove that they are 100% "Roman Catholic" in their thinking. They were not this either. It is the task of the exegete, bible student, and scholar to decide this by looking at these primary sources for themselves. We did not need the editors to tell us what the texts said. Due to this clear flaw in the notes, the texts themselves become suspect, and extra scrutiny must be used to ensure we are getting a faithful translation of the text. While this set is a "cheap" way to get the works of the fathers, the newer Newman Press texts are much better, based on better manuscripts, but also much more expensive. The volumes here have its merits, and it would be well worth anyone interested in what these Christians had to say to own them no matter what their theological leanings, but we must keep a careful eye on what is being said in the text.